A child, only 16, found herself falling in love with a man in his early 20s. She didn’t have the tools to see what kind of relationship it was. She didn’t love herself enough to care. She moved hours away from her single-parent home, the only place she knew, to follow this man to a new, isolated world. She would have followed him anywhere.
The infidelity, dishonesty, and financial and emotional abuse that followed immediately after the move seemed like a small price to pay for the “love” that child felt for the first time in her life.
At 17, she was pregnant. She was only 11 weeks pregnant when he sent her tumbling down the stairs, after an argument about whether the baby she carried would be put up for adoption, pending gender identification. A friend witnessed the event and rallied the police. He was charged with multiple felony counts of child abuse and domestic battery, but her misguided guilt had her lying in court. She had nowhere to go, except home, to the man who could have killed the child she carried.
Stuck, she endured another year of physical and emotional abuse. The baby she carried then brought into the world was an unknowing victim, too. A girl. She had a baby girl, who changed her outlook and heart so drastically that, together, they found a way to be free. She was determined to be the mother she didn’t have, and that did not include the abuse they were facing.
Together, a young mother and child, traveled the country looking for safety and eventually moved into a domestic violence shelter. There, they found safety and compassion. They started again. She put herself through college and achieved a bachelor’s degree. She put all her love into that sweet baby, now a toddler, and loved her with the kind of love that moves mountains.
Eventually, a man came into their lives who treated them with kindness. For the first time in her life, she found herself in a healthy relationship. Subsequently, she married him, and he adopted their first child. They had two more children, and with his unwavering support, she decided to change the world, one child at a time.
Now, she’s a wife, a mother and a world-renowned author with a mission: To help children feel loved. Help them know they’re more than enough, and they deserve to feel how amazing they are, with hope that they’ll never forget how important and wonderful they are.
Confession: I am that young mother. Of course, there is so much more to my story, but that’s for another day. “World-renowned author” is a bit of a stretch at this point, but I did recently publish a children’s book to encourage self-love and confidence in all children. You can find my book, You’ll Always Be Enough following my shameless plug, HERE
Now, for the harsh reality everyone needs to hear: Although I won’t get into the nitty-gritty of what domestic violence looks like, I strongly encourage you to learn more, HERE. With knowledge comes the power for change.
It is estimated that one in every 15 children are exposed to intimate partner violence. Approximately 90% of those children are eyewitnesses, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. UNICEF calls it “one of the most damaging and unaddressed human rights violations in the world today.” I agree wholeheartedly.
It’s shockingly easy to disconnect ourselves from these terrifying statistics. We feel our hearts sink. We say a prayer or make a donation to a shelter. Maybe we share a Facebook post, or even light a candle. Then, we count our blessings and then our lucky stars that it isn’t happening in our house. It’s not our kids. After, we inevitably move on and unintentionally let it slip away, unknowingly ignoring how these horrors creep into our homes as well. Whether we wear blinders, they do.
So, how, exactly does it creep into your house?
Here are just four ways, though there are certainly more.
1. From pregnancy to age 3 is the most vital period of social development in children. Children who are victims of domestic violence frequently don’t make the secure connections they need for long-term relationships. Sometimes, the effects of domestic violence on children aren’t known until adulthood. Once they’ve established a lasting relationship, marriage or the birth of a child, it’s very possible the effects will come flying out. The person you thought you knew disappears, and the cycle continues.
In short, the more exposed children there are, the more future offenders and victims to interact with your family.
2. There are long-term medical ramifications from exposure to domestic violence. I’m not talking about broken bones and bruises, though these are certainly additional dangers. I’m talking about the substantial increased risk for some of the largest health problems that plague our country: heart disease, chronic pain, asthma, allergies and reproductive health damage, to name just a few. Stress has a horrific effect on a developing body.
In short, your family will be subject to the continued increase in medical insurance, medical assistance and even prescription price increases because of the never-ending medical needs of millions of survivors.
3. The emotional response of children exposed to intimate partner violence is often exactly what they see. A simple bump in the school hallway could be met with an aggressive push. Raised voices could trigger panic attacks that disrupt classrooms. Children often struggle to accurately recognize the signals of negative emotional responses from others, and respond inappropriately.
In short, your child may unknowingly trigger an episode from a victim. They could become a third party victim, too.
4. Children who are exposed to intimate partner violence often experience post-traumatic stress disorder. They are effectively wired differently, causing their thoughts and actions to be directly affected by the trauma. Their fight, fight or freeze response to perceived threats is heightened, in some cases, to the point it never really “turns off.” Their minds and bodies are on constant high alert. Therefore, even children who successfully overcome their early life struggles may be followed by PTSD responses into adulthood. It’s possible, even likely, that someone you work with, or that works with your children, is shaped by domestic violence.
That’s not inherently bad, but it could mean they have triggers you may not even realize. If you elicit a trigger, you could find yourself the victim of a nasty situation that makes no sense to you.
Maybe that’s why your co-worker seems so anti-social. Maybe that’s why your friend is suddenly upset and unreachable. Maybe that’s why a family member drinks so much. In short, everyone is fighting some sort of internal demon, but some are certainly fighting harder than others.
Now that you’ve heard a few ways domestic violence can impact your family, even if you have a healthy home,
take a moment to think about how you can make little changes with a big impact.
Let go of the judgmental nature. Actively seek to learn more. Teach your children about acceptance and love, and let them know life isn’t as simple as it may seem to them. Volunteer. Take your blinders off and notice the world around you. Be present. Donate. Don’t joke about violence; it’s not funny anyway.
Most of all, be mindful in your own home with your children. They see everything. They hear everything.
About the Author
Laura Kuehl moved to Appleton, Wisconsin, from the Madison area. She holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice client services and spent several years working for a local domestic violence agency before deciding to become a full-time stay-at-home mom. She runs a local mom’s networking and support group, and serves avidly on her child’s school’s Parent-Teacher Organization. Passionate about helping people, Laura has decided to continue advocating for families by writing books for children with an uplifting message. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her husband and three beautiful children, as well as thrifting, reading and gardening.
Learn more at www.bapplebooks.com